Dec 032009

The Late Late Toy Show is an Irish institution.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing… just that it’s an inescapable one. As inevitable as death, taxes, corruption, tribunals and election posters, the Late Late Toy Show is one in a long list of things that parents all over the country have to suffer, but would generally prefer to avoid.

Having skilfully managed to sidestep the live airing on Friday night (the girls had friends staying over, and were so engrossed in play that they forgot about it), I thought that we might get away with it this year, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology there was no chance of that. The next day we had a family viewing of the show over the Internet. With the computer hooked up to the flat-screen telly and RTE Player streaming full-screen it was almost as "good" as viewing the live show. Lucky me!

All over the country parents suffer this annual "extravaganza" of festive torture. But this year there was an element of expectation and anticipation… could Ryan Tubridy, in his first year at the helm of the iconic show, perhaps add something compelling and appealing to the mix? Unfortunately, it seems the answer was a resounding no.

While a much younger Ryan is a lot more energetic around the set than Pat Kenny, and is, it has to be said, a tad more engaging, dynamic and congenial with his young reviewers, the show’s format hasn’t changed at all. And that’s a shame.

It still flits too rapidly from toy to toy, not giving the kids enough of a chance to tell you what they really think, or the viewers long enough to really form an opinion. They’d be better off with less toys, and a bit more time spent on each. Instead RTE opts for courting as many sponsors as it can, when in reality focussing on fewer sponsors would deliver more value for everyone.

This whole thing is an elaborate pre-Christmas marketing exercise… which is fine, but with a bit more thought the production team could turn it into a much more effective one for the brands involved, and a much more entertaining and informative show for the audience watching at home.

You can’t blame the presenter for decisions made by the team behind the scenes, of course, and all things considered I found this year’s Toy Show more entertaining than Pat Kenny’s recent exploits… but that’s not saying much. The selection of toys didn’t do the new host any favours either: with very few exception there was the usual assortment of battery powered plastic rubbish that only half works on the night, and that you know, if you actually buy them for Christmas, will suffer from either disintegration or a chronic case of disinterest before the New Year.

But perhaps the worst parts of the show are the "talent" breaks that crop up with distressing regularity. I use the word talent in the loosest possible sense, because with few exceptions the musical interludes are to be endured, rather than enjoyed. I can only put the enthusiasm of the whooping, cheering studio audience down to pre-show drinks, or perhaps to giddy exuberance from the plentiful "one for everyone in the audience" give-aways.

By far the lowest point of this year’s show was when X-Factor freak show John and Edward made an appearance. It was bad enough on the X Factor, when all you had to do was listen to them trying to sing… but that’s nothing compared to enduring their attempts at coherent conversation.

If all of this sounds a bit negative I guess it’s because I’ve been disappointed… again.

The Late Late Toy show has the potential to be a really wonderful family programme — a fantastic precursor to the festive season that parents and children can watch together. It could be genuinely entertaining, enjoyable, even useful. But somehow it always manages to fall frustratingly short….

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